Yearning for Pulpit Orators of Old: Liberia Missing Voice of Conscience

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It is important in times like these for religious leaders to stand and deliver, the use the pulpits and restore their status as the voice of conscience that once served as the bedrock and instilled fear in leaders of our historical past. Standing by idly; doing nothing and saying – nothing while a nation deteriorates is not a sign of a good clergy.

LIBERIA HAS ALWAYS been blessed with fiery orations from the pulpits. The late Mother Wilhemina Dukuly, Rev. E. Tumu Reeves, Walter Richards, Archbishop Michael Francis, Archbishop George D. Browne, the Rev. Peter Amos George Sr,-  and the list goes on and on.

IN RECENT weeks, a wave of reports regarding corruption, issues of nepotism, greed and broad-day-like thievery have been dominating the airwaves. From the recent Global Witness Report to other reports of elected officials in the national legislature enriching themselves with personal benefits at the expense of taxpayers to numerous reports of the trampling of rights, free speech and a lot of other political vices bringing shame and embarrassment to Liberia.

THROUGH IT ALL a voice Liberians could always count on to hold leaders accountable for the actions or lack of have been relatively silent.

AS A RESULT, many have turned to the talk radio to vent their frustrations, or parade in front of the United States embassy to deliver statements or stakeout in a bid to have their voices heard.

OTHERS TO NEWSPAPERS AND SOCIAL Media.

IRONICALLY, MODERN AFRICAN leaders are fond of showing off their faith in God and belief in religion.

SUNDAY MORNINGS they filled the churches and parade the mosques on Fridays but do very little to address the plight of their people.

IT IS IMPORTANT in times like these for religious leaders to stand and deliver, by using the pulpits to restore their status as the voice of conscience that once served as the bedrock and instilled fear in leaders of our historical past.

STANDING BY, idly doing nothing and saying nothing; while a nation deteriorates is not a sign of a good clergy.

LIBERIA WAS BUILD on a solid foundation if faith.

Religion in Liberia. According to the 2008 National Census, 85.5% of Liberia’s population practices Christianity. Muslims comprise 12.2% of the population, largely coming from the Mandingo and Vai ethnic groups. The vast majority of Muslims are Malikite Sunni, with sizeable Shia and Ahmadiyya minorities.

BUT THIS IS NOT ABOUT being a Muslim or a Christian, it is about turning back the clock and the hands of time to a past that brought a nation great comfort in knowing that there were clergymen and women who stood with the tests of time and weathered the stormy waters with those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder, who used their pulpits to speak truth to power and not just to yield to the powers that be.

LIBERIA USED TO BE A NATION of fearless pulpit orators like the late Rev. Walter Richards who frequently and quite fearlessly challenged authorities about abuses and infringement of human rights.

AUTHOR PAUL GIFFORD writes in “Christianity and Politics in Doe’s Liberia” that the late President’s fearful defense minister Gray Allison appeared on TV brandishing a folder claiming to have information on churchmen, Richards immediately called his bluff and invited him to publicize whatever he knew about him and nothing more was said.

TODAY LIBERIA YEARNS for the days of Archbishop George D. Browne, the leader of the Episcopal archdiocese who prior to his death at 59, in 1993, survived death threats in his efforts to bring peace and democracy to Liberia, served on a commission that proposed democratic changes in Liberia’s Constitution, but opposed by the authoritarian President, Samuel K. Doe.

WHEN THE WAR broke out and many fled, the Archbishop opened seven churches to help victims of the civil war and helped negotiate among warring factions.

TODAY, LIBERIA YEARN for the likes of the late Mother Dukuly, whose prophesies instilled fear in the leaders of her time, the Tolbert and Doe.

THE FIERY CLERGYWOMAN, started the Faith Healing Temple as a haven to spread the Word of God and bringing the lost to Jesus Christ.

THE REVERRED MOTHER DUKULY who got her vision in the 1970s after she was constrained to travel with her sick husband to Europe for an urgent medical attention and made a promise to God that if God were to save her husband and if she and her husband returned home alive, she would serve God for the rest of her life, dedicated the rest of her life to not just healing and saving souls but speaking truth to power.

HER MINISTRY remains a major pinnacle for Liberia today, preaching of the good news, prophecy and miracles.

WHEN MOTHER MAI ROBERTS was tipped as her successor on February 5, 1986, she paid homage to Mother Dukuly whose big shoes she had to filled.

DURING THE CIVIL WAR, the Faith Healing Temple catered to more than 4,000 displaced persons at alternative times with no death recorded. But it is the many prophesies of Mother Dukuly that many remember and put leaders of recent historical past on notice about the signs of the times and the writings on the wall.

THOSE WHO FAILED to listen are today six-feet under because they felt they were above reproach and beyond decay.

IN HIS PRIME, ARCHBISHOP MICHAEL FRANCIS offered a sustained and wide-ranging critique of Liberia’s socio-political order and frequently dealt with corruption, writing four pastoral letters on the subject in eleven years.

HIS FIRST LETTER IN 1977, just a year after being named bishop, detailed extensively in Gifford’s book; called corruption a problem discussed by everyone. “He treated all aspects: spiritual, economic, social, political and personal. He treated its causes and suggested answers. It is not too late to arrest this ugly trend of corruption in our country. We are proud to call ourselves Christians, but can we honestly do so if corrupt practices are the normal things in our lives.”

IN LENT 1980, the head of the Catholic Archdiocese lamented: “Corruption is destroying us as a people… a problem that has permeated all ranks and sector of our society, a problem that very few can say they have not been touched by. Instead of things getting better, they are getting worse. Corruption is everywhere.”

IN HIS 1982 LENTEN LETTERS, Archbishop Francis stated that since his letter in 1977, ‘the evil has continued like a cancerous growth to devour the whole fabric of our society’. Since he had written in 1980, ‘the problem is still with us and instead of being solved, instead continues to grow and have very damaging effects on our country. It continues to permeate all sectors of our society, it continues to grow and have very damaging effects on our country. It continues to permeate all sectors of our society; it is openly condoned, engaged in and accepted as a way of life. We must eradicate the evil. We must come to grips with this problem. We must wipe it out of our society if this country is to be a place of justice, equality, peace, joy happiness, and one full of golden opportunities for all.’ He went on to give examples adding to those he had discussed in previous letters. Under the heading corruption, he added, ‘unjust imprisonment, detention without charge or trial, inhuman and degrading prison conditions’.

UNDER PROFESSIONAL CORRUPTION, HE ADDED: “We find this in officials of government who use their positions to use public moneys for themselves either directly or indirectly. We find this in the employment of inefficient persons just because of family connections, because they are from the same tribe, are girlfriends etc. Under personal corruption, he added, ‘the all-pervasive sexual immorality of our country.”

JOINED by two other in a joint letter on corruption in 1987, the Catholic Bishops began: ‘Aware of our Christian Responsibility as Christian leaders in our respective local churches, and as citizens of our beloved country, Liberia, we are addressing this pastoral letter to you(Catholics) in particular, and to all men and women of good will in Liberia in general.’ They continued: ‘This problem is a national cancer. {We address it} because of our love for Liberia.’

IN DISCUSSING, Spiritual corruption, they added that this is evident ‘when preachers of God’s word live immoral lives, committing the very same sins they condemn and exhort others to do away with it.

UNDER ECONOMIC CORRUPTION, they wrote: ‘We find this also in a system which allows persons to survive on petty corruption while a just wage is denied or delayed…{also} in delayed payment of salaries.’ They found professional corruption in the manipulation of aid and funds where personal interests come before those of the ordinary people or the state in general’.

ON JUDICIAL CORRUPTION, they wrote: “Corruption is found in the legal system in which justice is not the order of the day but bribery, fear and miscarriage of justice.”

MORE THAN TWO DECADES later, it appears much of what was professed then still lingers within Liberia’s midst.

THIS WE BELIEVE IS happening because the Council of Churches is no longer united as it once was and has been crippled by infights, disagreements and messages lost in translation.

TODAY, A LOT of Liberians are yearning for direction that their leaders are not giving them, they yearn for a point in the right direction that the pulpits are lacking today. Mega Churches are becoming the new phenomenon and filling the offering plates appears to be the more pressing priorities than speaking truth to power.

THIS ATTITUDE must change if Liberia is to elevate itself out of poverty, disease, corruption and the many vices that has lingered since the day of independence.

THE CHURCH CAN PLAY a major role. So can the inter-faith groups. Liberia is crying and regrettably never stopped bleeding internally.

WE MUST MUSTER the courage and faith in ourselves and take a page from memory lane and do all we can to keep the words of our once fearless men and women of the pulpit relevant for our generation and the generation yet unborn.

WE MUST HOLD our leaders’ feet to the fire, not just on Sunday mornings or Friday Mosques, but each and every day as a constant reminder of not just how things were but; how things are supposed to be.

A Hint to the Wise…

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